Reel Matt

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A Million Ways to Die in the West

Film #439


As a cowardly farmer begins to fall for the mysterious new woman in town, he must put his new-found courage to the test when her husband, a notorious gun-slinger, announces his arrival.

Year 2, Film #74

THE REVIEW: When I saw Seth MacFarlane’s feature film directorial debut Ted last year, I was thoroughly impressed with what I saw. Ted was so ridiculous and absurd, as you could expect from the creator of Family Guy, but it’s self-awareness is what really made the film funny. The same holds true with MacFarlane’s latest film, A Million Ways to Die in the West. I’d argue this film is much less joke-heavy and more story/genre-oriented than anything I’ve seen from MacFarlane before, but once again, I’m very impressed and found myself laughing hysterically numerous times throughout the film.

Something to note right away is that the comedy in A Million Ways to Die in the West really takes on a secondary role. Obviously it’s a large secondary role, but a secondary role nonetheless. The beginning of this film makes that quite apparent when we’re introduced to Albert (Seth MacFarlane) and his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried). Before getting to the big laughs we see just how sad and depressing the frontier in 1882 is, especially after Louise breaks up with Albert sending him into isolation for weeks until his best friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) comes and takes him into town again. Many other moments throughout the film were met with equal moments of silence from the audience as you just watch these characters and their story unfold in a way meant solely for exposition and not for laughs at the characters’ expense. Contrast this with a film like Ted that has several jokes per scene and relatively few of these emotional moments and you seemingly get different results.

However, I found A Million Ways to Die in the West to be equally as funny even though the number of jokes was less. It’s a real quality over quantity situation here. As always, comedy is very subjective and depends on the type of person watching the film. For me at least, MacFarlane nailed the kind of self-aware/referential and blunt observational humor that I enjoy. The blunt observational humor often came from Albert’s character. A good example is when Albert is giving Anna (Charlize Theron) an introductory tour to the town. Instead of jokes with punchlines, Albert will just make observations about just how bad the Old West is and sound confused at why anyone would ever want to move there. His deadpan delivery usually combined with an outrageous event (ie. a man getting impaled by a bull — one way to die in the west you know) makes for many funny moments. But funnier still, for my taste, are the countless references that self-proclaimed nerd Seth MacFarlane includes. The best part is that many of them aren’t nerd-oriented so to speak. Anyone familiar with Neil Patrick Harris and his role as Barney Stinson will be particularly amused with one of Foy’s lines in the film. There’s also a cameo from a famous science-fiction western that appears (I’ll leave the name unmentioned) in addition to many others like Gilbert Gottfried as “President Abe Lincoln” and my personal favorite, Albert doing the “pew pew” motion (bit of an inside joke there).

Overall, A Million Ways to Die in the West is another solid entry from Seth MacFarlane. It isn’t wall-to-wall laughs but you can be guaranteed your stomach will be hurting by the end because of how hard you will laugh. The film’s attempt to go for a more emotional story — Albert tries to win back Louise by dueling her new beau Foy to prove his love for her — can be a bit formulaic at points but even then, the film pokes fun at itself for being so rote and predictable. This isn’t necessarily the best film you’ll see all summer, but it will probably be one of the funniest and is a good way to kick back and relax.

A Million Ways to Die in the West opens in theaters on Friday May 30, 2014.

THE RATING: 4 out of 5